As you've probably already read, Sen. Thad Altman (R) of Melbourne and Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D) of Tampa have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott (R) over his rejection of federal funding for a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. The senators' attorney filed the suit on Feb. 28, and the Florida Supreme Court quickly responded by requiring the governor to respond by noon of March 2.
It should be noted that while the two senators are the only named petitioners, the suit can also be viewed as an action by the majority of the Florida Senate. That's because a veto-proof majority of the senators (26 out of the 39) already signed a letter sent to Gov. Scott rebuking him for his rejection of the rail funds.
I'm certainly no legal scholar. I can barely tell a mandamus from a manatee. But the lawsuit certainly doesn't seem frivolous, and makes what appears to be some sound legal points -- along with a political zinger here and there. You can read it in its entirety here, or check some of the highlights here.
Essentially, the senators assert that the governor lacks the authority to reject the funding, namely since a previous legislature already enacted a law that authorizes the high-speed rail project, even creating an entity, the Florida Rail Enterprise, to oversee it. The senators further ask that the Supreme Court require Gov. Scott to accept the federal funding. The suit states:
"(Gov. Rick Scott) took the unilateral action of attempting to reject the funds that had been appropriated by the Legislature and to be funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), even though the Legislature had passed the Florida Rail Act specifically directing the Florida Rail Enterprise to finance and construct a high speed rail system and had appropriated $130.8 million to implement the awards from the USDOT; the Florida Rail Enterprise had fulfilled its obligation to obtain financing of the high speed rail system by obtaining from the U.S. Department of Transportation three awards totaling $2.54 billion to build such system; the Florida Rail Enterprise had entered into a $66.6 million Grant Agreement with the USDOT to begin the system; in order to implement the award and the Legislature's appropriations the Florida Rail Enterprise had negotiated and was waiting to sign the Amendment to the Grant in the amount of $1.5 billion; and various Statements of Work had been negotiated and completed regarding such Grant."
Moreover, the suit states that: "Based upon such legislation and appropriation, which were not vetoed by Florida's prior governor, Respondent is without authority to now, many months later, to effectively veto such legislation and reduce such completed appropriations retroactively."
An interesting footnote takes a jab at the governor's stated position against the use of stimulus funds. "It is clear that Respondent is not philosophically opposed to taking the ARRA monies. He wants the $2.4 billion for Florida. He just refuses to apply it to high speed rail. Under federal law, the monies simply cannot be used for other projects."
The suit more specifically cites the authority of the Florida Rail Enterprise over the project:
"The High Speed Rail Act requires the Florida Rail Enterprise to finance and construct the high speed rail system for the state. There is no discretion. As such, the authority to, and the requirement to, implement and execute upon the financing of high speed rail is imposed upon the Florida Rail Enterprise. Both explicitly and implicitly, the Legislature has set forth a specific methodology for implementing high speed rail. The Florida Rail Enterprise's executive director has no discretion to reject such financing as determined by the Legislature."
In conclusion, it argues that Gov. Rick Scott has a "clear duty ... to accept the ARRA funds and apply the funds appropriated by Congress and the Florida Legislature for the Florida High Speed Rail Project. As such, Petitioners respectfully request that this Court ... order the Respondent to expeditiously accept the funds and apply such funds appropriated by Congress and the Florida Legislature for the Florida High Speed Rail Project."
Gov. Rick Scott responded to the lawsuit on March 2. My blog post summarizing the governor's response can be found here, or readers can review it in its entirety, as posted on the Florida Supreme Court's website, here. The court has scheduled oral arguments for March 3.
Let us hear your thoughts!